Cat lovers can sleep a little easier. New research finds having cats in the home is not linked to an increased risk of mental illness.
Recent research suggested that cat ownership might contribute to mental disorders because cats are hosts to the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii (T. Gondii). The parasite, commonly found in cat poop, is linked to mental health problems such as schizophrenia.
However, a new study published in the journal, Psychological Medicine, suggests that owning a cat during in pregnancy and childhood does not play a role in developing psychotic symptoms during adolescence.
"The message for cat owners is clear: there is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health," said Dr Francesca Solmi of University College London, in a statement.
Solmi led the study of nearly 5,000 people born in the early 90's. They followed up with the children through their 18th birthday. The study found that a suggested link between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at age 13, turned out to be due to other factors, such as as household over-crowding and socioeconomic status.
While, the study did not find a link between T. Gondii and mental health, it can still cause other serious problems during pregnancy or in early childhood. According to NBC News, those problems include birth defects and miscarriages. Doctors recommend pregnant women continue to avoid soiled cat litter in case it contains T. Gondii.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "more than 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness."